In a final-lap run from fifth place to first, Matt Bussa marveled with a walk-off performance to win the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series regular-season finale at Michigan International Speedway Tuesday night, clinching the final position in the series playoffs as a result.
Bussa entered the night 18th in points, winless on the season, with a nearly-impossible task ahead of him to qualify for the $100,000-to-win championship playoffs: win the race—something he’d done just once in 146 starts across nine seasons—but also rely on a competitor’s bad luck. With more than 10 drivers winning a race in the 14-race regular season, it meant wins—plus points—were a must; a win on its own wouldn’t be enough to qualify a driver in such a low points position.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 18, 2021
Logan Clampitt qualified on pole and held the lead for much of the opening run over William Byron eSports teammate Nick Ottinger, an apt sight for Logitech G-sponsored cars in the race named the Logitech G Challenge 100.
Luck ran dry quickly for Ottinger, the defending series champion, though; storms in North Carolina caused a power outage in the 27-year-old’s home, causing him to lose connection to the race server and eliminate his chances of grabbing his first win of 2021. Only in online racing.
Unreal luck this year for our team. Power knocked out while running 2nd. Unbelievable.
— Nick Ottinger (@NickOttinger) August 18, 2021
With a green-flag feel in the first half of the race, two race strategies unfolded: several drivers opted to split the 100-lap race into thirds, pitting twice, while others chose to gamble on fuel mileage and reach Lap 50 for a single stop.
The strategy picture changed quite a bit on Lap 47 when Garrett Manes sent Caine Cook for a spin, bringing out the first caution of the night while Ray Alfalla paced the field. Vicente Salas and Ryan Luza were also involved, both 2021 race winners who couldn’t afford a bad run in case of a new face in Victory Lane. The incident would prove fatal for Luza’s championship hopes after finishing in last place.
The ensuing restart went sour for Alfalla, who hoped to bring home his second win of 2021, after getting tagged by Dylan Duval when a pass for the lead went awry. A flurry of additional cautions followed, demonstrating the rising intensity level created by the playoff picture and close-quarters pack racing.
A 10-lap shootout brought the race to its conclusion with Keegan Leahy, Jake Matheson, Casey Kirwan, Garrett Lowe, Bussa and others vying for the top spot, no driver the clear favorite with draft as the great equalizer and pit strategy out the window.
On the final lap of the race, it looked like Leahy had the advantage, eager to pick up his second win of the year, joining only 23XI Racing teammate Mitchell deJong as the only multi-race winner this season. But, on the backstretch, Matheson hooked Leahy’s Toyota, sending it spinning, the checkered flag less than a mile away.
With momentum lost from the spin, Matheson’s Williams Esports Ford gave way to Bussa’s hard-charging Mode Motorsports machine heading toward Turn 3 for the last time.
The 27-year-old Bussa held off a four-wide battle behind him at the finish line to do the unthinkable: bust a three-year winless drought by winning the regular-season finale, and, by virtue of Ryan Luza’s last place finish, earn enough points to grab a spot in the playoffs.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 18, 2021
No TV drama could script this.
WE DID IT!!! We won Michigan and are now in the playoffs!! Still can't believe that just happened. All made possible thanks to the best team I could ask for at Team Conti and @ModeMediaHouse. Let's go playoff racing! #eNASCAR @NASCAR | @CocaColaRacing @Ky1eLong | @iRacing pic.twitter.com/qdaF99IJXN
— Matt Bussa (@mbussa75) August 18, 2021
Bussa’s win continued the unique-winner trend this season in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series, becoming the 13th different winner in 14 races.
Matheson, the rookie, held on for a career-best second-place finish, while Bussa’s Mode Motorsports teammate Jake Nichols finished third. A couple of former series champions, Michael Conti and Zack Novak, rounded out the top five.
This year’s 10 championship contenders are Mitchell deJong, Graham Bowlin, Keegan Leahy, Michael Conti, Bobby Zalenski, Logan Clampitt, Jimmy Mullis, Vicente Salas, Matt Bussa and Bob Bryant. They’ll compete in a four-race playoffs, culminating in a $100,000-to-win championship finale at Texas Motor Speedway on Oct. 12, part of the series’ record-shattering $330,000 in winnings this year.
Real clutch hours! 2 years of trying, and here we are! GOOO MODE! 💪🏽
Thank you to everyone who supports us. #ModeGang
— Mode Media House (@ModeMediaHouse) August 18, 2021
Ryan Luza, Chris Shearburn and Ray Alfalla were the three race winners left out of the playoffs due to their points position and won’t compete for a championship.
The Coca-Cola iRacing Series playoffs begin Aug. 31 at Darlington Raceway.